Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
America has a well documented problem with mass incarceration, a less highlighted issue though is what the American inmate does when he gets to prison. As per the 13th Amendment it’s actually legal in America to put prisoners to work, for little to no money. However, whether it’s right or fair is another question.
Roughly half of all imprisoned American citizens work full-time jobs while serving time. They aren't counted in standard labor surveys, but prisoners make up a sizable United States workforce—870,000 working inmates. Nearly a million people. The original idea behind prison labour was that job skills would help people re-enter society. However, most of the jobs assigned to prisoners are not skill-building jobs; instead, they involve maintenance of the prison itself. In other cases, prisoners are used to fight wild fires but aren’t actually able to apply for a job as a firefighter when they get out because they have a history of criminal convictions. Because inmate workers are not considered "employees" under the law, they have none of the protections that word implies. No disability or worker's compensation in the event of an injury. No Social Security withholdings, sick time, or overtime pay. In three states—Texas, Georgia, and Arkansas—they work for free. If they don’t work they go into solitary confinement. The U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world. If U.S. prisons had to pay prisoners the minimum wage, they could not keep operating. If they paid outside workers to do the work that inmates do, costs could rise 30 to 45 times for the same services. In this sense it’s actually in the US governments interest for prisoners to reoffend and may explain the high levels of reoffending by American inmates than other countries. It’s a bit sickening to think that some of the guys working in the prison could actually be descended from the people that were once enslaved on the very same plantation. The very same place their ancestors were beaten with whips, women and children were raped, men were lynched, their cultures suppressed, all in the name of profit. That being said obviously there are 2 sides to every story, people will say that it actually reduces the level of violence in prisons, contributes to safety within the prison by reducing boredom and also gives the inmates purpose and direction. It's a complex issue with lots of stories and nothing is black or white. Both the documentary and the video below explore the topic both ultimately taking a different route.
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